Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday won the Nevada Democratic caucuses, defeating Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent in the race for the party’s 2016 presidential nomination.
Analysts said Clinton’s win showed that her national network of support remained formidable, and that Sanders must do more to appeal to Democrats beyond the young people who have formed the core of his campaign.
And in South Carolina’s closely fought Republican primary, Donald Trump has edged out his rivals with projections showing him capturing 32.5 percent of the vote. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz locked in a virtual tie for second, with each taking about 22 percent. Rubio finished with a slight edge.
After Trump’s big victory in New Hampshire last week, his win Saturday was likely to solidify the billionaire real estate mogul as the Republican front-runner.
Trump addressed a jubilant crowd in Spartanburg, South Carolina, along with his wife, Melania, and his daughter, Ivanka, who also spoke briefly. Trump congratulated the other candidates, saying it is tough to run for president but “beautiful when you win.”
Trump repeated elements of his stump speech, saying that when he becomes president, the United States will start winning again. He vowed to make Mexico pay for a massive wall along the U.S. southern border and to challenge China on its trade surplus.
Trump said he was headed for Nevada, which will hold its Republican caucuses Tuesday. He said his campaign “is an incredible movement with incredible people.” Members of the crowd chanted, “USA! USA!”
He looked forward to contests in multiple states on March 1st, called Super Tuesday, saying “let’s put this thing [Republican primary contest] away.”
About one-third of South Carolina voters are military veterans, and exit polls showed that Trump won more veterans’ votes than any of his Republican opponents.
Analyst Todd Shaw with the University of South Carolina told VOA that history shows the South Carolina primary is almost always a “clarifier” for the Republican nomination.
He said often one candidate will win the Iowa caucus, and a different one will win in New Hampshire, but the person who wins in South Carolina usually goes on to win the nomination. 2008 was an exception, with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich winning the South Carolina primary, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney winning the nomination.
Shaw said, as final results were still being tallied from Saturday’s vote, if Trump ends up winning every single congressional district in the state, he would capture a large share of the delegates and that Trump appears to be “well on his way” to winning the nomination, unless the field narrows to a two person race.
Bush bows out
An emotional Jeb Bush delivered a gracious speech as the vote count sealed his fate at fourth place in the Republican field. The former Florida governor said he had decided to suspend his campaign, withdrawing from a race that many had expected him to win.
Instead, Rubio and Cruz are the two candidates vying for second place behind Trump.
Speaking to his supporters of a new generation of “21st-century Republicans,” Rubio vowed that he would go on to win the Republican nomination and become the next president.
He closed in quickly in South Carolina after finishing a disappointing fifth in the New Hampshire primary earlier in the month. The 44-year-old son of a Cuban immigrant, with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley at his side, spoke to an energized crowd that chanted, “Marco! Marco!”
Cruz lauds Bush
Cruz also spoke to his supporters, surrounded by his wife and two young girls. He praised Bush, saying the former Florida governor “didn’t go to the gutter” and hurl insults at others — a veiled reference to Trump.
Cruz paid tribute to late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, saying he had attended his funeral earlier Saturday. “This election will be a referendum on the Supreme Court,” he said. “I can’t wait to stand on the debate stage with Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, or whatever socialist they put forth.”
Cruz said conservatives were continuing to unite behind his campaign, and that he was the only strong conservative in a position to win the race. He noted that he was the only candidate so far to have beaten Trump, in the Iowa caucuses, and he said he was the Republican candidate who could provide the best contrast with the Democrats in the November general election.
Clinton was jubilant as she addressed cheering supporters at her Nevada headquarters.
“Some may have doubted us, but we never doubted each other,” she said, singling out hotel and casino workers, students and families for their support in the Western state. She congratulated Sanders on a hard-fought race.
Speaking to his Nevada supporters, Sanders said, “We are bringing working people and young people into the political process in a way we have not seen in a long while.”
Sanders was upbeat as he said he would soon be on a plane to South Carolina, and then would compete in the 11 states in which Democrats will vote on Super Tuesday. “The wind is at our backs and we have the momentum.”
He said he believed that when Democrats hold their nominating convention in Philadelphia in July, voters will see “one of the great political upsets in the history of the United States.”
Both campaigns had viewed multi-ethnic Nevada as a test for electoral viability nationwide. Exit polls indicated that Sanders won the Hispanic vote in Nevada, but that Clinton won the African-American vote by a large margin.
Clinton will head into next week’s Democratic primary in South Carolina with momentum, and she already has a commanding lead in the polls there. She told her supporters she was traveling to the delegate-rich state of Texas late Saturday to campaign there, and that her husband, former president Bill Clinton, was traveling to Colorado.
It was the second win of the 2016 election season for Clinton, who narrowly won the Iowa caucuses earlier this month. Sanders won the New Hampshire primary by a big margin.
Pressure on Sanders
Political experts said the clear win in Nevada was a big relief for Clinton and her backers, after recent reports of a Sanders surge. Analysts said there was now more pressure on Sanders to prove he can win in a more diverse state than New Hampshire.
In her victory speech, Clinton said a brave young girl in Nevada told her how scared she was that her undocumented parents would be deported. Referring to Sanders’ focus on income inequality and the power of Wall Street banks, Clinton said voters are looking for workable solutions, and that the United States is not a single-issue country.
She said she wanted the U.S. to be the clean-energy country of the 21st century, and that it was time that women received equal pay for equal work.
Clinton pledged to reform the country’s criminal justice system and immigration system if she is elected, and to address what she termed “systemic racism.”
She aimed a message at young people, who have been backing Sanders in greater numbers, saying that every person has a role to play in building the future.
Before both candidates spoke publicly, Sanders congratulated Clinton on her win, saying he was proud of his supporters in Nevada and that he would leave the state with a solid number of delegates. Exit polls showed that Sanders again won a majority of young voters.
Nevada and South Carolina have split their caucus and voting schedules between Democrats and Republicans this year.
Next Saturday, South Carolina Democrats will have their primary election, while Republicans in Nevada will caucus that day.
The following Tuesday is Super Tuesday when voters in a collection of 13 states will choose delegates, committed to presidential candidates, at the two major political party conventions.